Harbin resident Ann Prehn — long-time editor of the quarterly print publication — provides an ongoing glimpse behind the scenes of our retreat center in this new Harbin blog. Check in regularly for insights into our history, consciousness, creativity, growth, spirituality, and the universe around us. To contact Ann, e-mail email@example.com.
[Excerpted from his book, Oneness in Living, available from the Harbin bookstore and Amazon.]
I was born Robert F. Hartley in a wealthy, socially advantaged family. I had the best of private education, but was tied in knots from social inadequacy and sexual frustration. I was so scared of girls I never kissed one goodnight until about 25. At Harvard College, I was on probation and was almost expelled. My social and financial advantages felt like disadvantages, for they came with a huge burden of expectation I felt incapable of meeting.
Gradually, my life changed. While at Columbia, I spent three years in psychoanalysis and was president of the small International Students Club. At 27 I went to Mexico, hoping to use my study of international economic development to get a job or join a business. Legal obstacles against North Americans made it impossible to find employment, so while I was deciding what to do next, I started reading. I devoured the books of Erich Fromm [who] became my first real teacher, leading me to Zen, to my first experiments in meditation, and to Alan Watts and Fritz Perls. Wide-ranging study and practice of psychology, philosophy, and spirituality became my main path and remained so until my middle fifties.
At 31 I became involved in the movement to create schools like the Summerhill School in England. Part of my stock market profits went to support one such school and to start another, where I went to live and teach.
Fritz Perls, who founded Gestalt Therapy, was the most exciting author I had read. I had tried two times to move to where he was, to Miami and to Los Angeles, only to find that he had moved on. Now he was at the Esalen Institute on the California coast and my move to Berkeley was partly to be near him. I realized that he would not spend time teaching a psychological mess like me, I needed to make myself ready for him.
In Berkeley, I attended all sorts of encounter and other groups, the best of which was a “Gestalt Encounter Group.” I thought the leader was a genius, until I found that the genius was in the new techniques Perls had invented and described in his new book, Gestalt Therapy Verbatim. While his previous writings had been primarily theoretical, this book focused on these new, amazingly effective practical methods.
The discovery of these techniques began a very creative period for me. I worked alone with my dreams by alternating roles with a tape recorder. First I would be the client and tell my dream to the recorder. Then, as therapist, I would listen to the recorded dream, and give and tape an instruction. As client, I would listen to the instruction and carry it out. Taping everything, I would alternate these two roles until the work was finished. This system allowed me to record my dreams when I woke up and work on them later, and I could review and critique both roles whenever I wanted.
With this method, I did not have to worry about incorrect therapeutic interpretations or what the therapist thought of me. I could act stupid or crazy and do embarrassing things whenever the therapy called for it. There were no head-trips about projections onto the therapist, just resolution of inner conflicts. If there is a single event that changed me from being a psychologically troubled person to a person who could resolve problems and move beyond them, it was this self-therapy.
The teachers at the Gestalt Therapy Institute asked to have one of their teachers guide me privately, and I agreed. She approved what I was doing and recommended me as a trainee. The training was a series of group sessions with a few teaching pointers added. It was very helpful, but not nearly as important as my self-therapy and individual sessions with students. Most other trainees were more interested in how they looked than in serious work on themselves, for which you have to be willing to look like an idiot.
I emphasize the Gestalt Therapy period of my life because it changed me from being an inhibited person to a powerful one. It radically revised my idea of what I could accomplish and taught me to adapt to an accelerated rate of growth and development, a rate that has continued and accelerated ever since.
I had bought Harbin Hot Springs in April 1972, but did not move there until June 1973, for it had no housing suitable for my wife and two daughters. The Summerhill-type school I had helped to create and where I had lived was foundering, so I had to act to protect my investment. The school had 120 students and 60 staff, so it was a significant operation, though it had changed from a Summerhill orientation to a medical one. I made substantial changes, but at a much slower pace than I thought necessary. My wife was very unhappy to be back, and my kids did not like it either. Moving back to Green Valley School pretty much broke my marriage.
When I bought Harbin Hot Springs, it was a run-down mess. The health department had thrown out the previous occupant, a commune, and the property had been thoroughly vandalized. There were seven inches of debris on all the floors made up of broken glass from the windows and paper from the short-lived commune newspaper called the Harbinger, which was centered on LSD and UFO’s.
After having been owner at the Florida school and in some other situations, I did not want to live in a community as the property owner. I called a meeting of those who seemed interested in more than a place to live, six in all, and we decided what kind of place it was to be. I created Heart Consciousness Church in 1975 and donated the property to it. After the first few months, I was its secretary and later its president.
While progress at Harbin Hot Springs was rapid to most people, it was slow compared to my dreams. I did not feel fulfilled. Years earlier I had said, ostensibly jokingly, that my ambition was to be both a Buddha and a billionaire. I had given up personal fortune, but I was creating wealth for Heart Consciousness Church. The Buddha part was not happening.
Yogeshwar Muni taught Kundalini Yoga, which had interested me for years, but I had never met anyone who really knew about it. From my reading it seemed the highest and most powerful form of Yoga, avoided for that reason by most yoga students and teachers.
After nine months of practicing, what he then described as kundalini awoke, and I was on my way to more advanced stages. I was now meditating eight hours per day, which he said was the maximum one should do. Two and a half years after I started, I was told of secret practices that rapidly took me past the next two stages. In my fifth year, I went through a very difficult stage which made me sicker and weaker than ever before in my life, but I continued to practice.
After four more years, I was feeling stuck. An excellent psychic said I would die soon if I continued what I was doing. Other psychics said similar but less threatening things. Later I learned that I was making a serious error: in trying to follow what I thought was an instruction, I was forcing rather than surrendering. In these circumstances, I eased up my meditation, so I thought, but I was wrong again and was actually stopping it.
Without the heavy drag of purification induced by my meditation, my life became more active, and in 1989 I was married again. In early 1994, Yogeshwar Muni returned to the United States and gave a seminar on his yoga. My previous errors became clear and I resumed my meditation… and continue at an even more intense level today.
Meditating is now my biggest activity. It has so much momentum, I cannot imagine being without it.
When I was young I wanted to undertake the greatest and noblest work I could find, especially if no one else was doing it. I did not expect to blaze trails in the spiritual realm, because others seemed so much more qualified – I would have been laughed at to think otherwise! The book Summerhill inspired the main goal I chose: to create a more humane and effective living environment than most people thought possible.
Many are better endowed than I. At Harvard, I was below average in intelligence, diligence, maturity, and ability to focus. To the extent I have risen since then, it is because I am willful, bold, flexible, and persistent. Accomplishment is far more a result of will than of natural, social, or financial endowment.
I have taken what seem like great risks. Each time I failed, I came out all right – frequently better than if I had succeeded. Failure often guided me to see and give up mistaken thinking, and to “Turn adversity into opportunity!” I have found that whenever I fail, I can always, and I means always, see the situation in such a way that I gain instead of losing. Someone who thinks this way and acts on it can never be kept down.
My love to you all.
by Ann Prehn
I write. Many of my friends write, really good books that only a few have read. Neil Murphy wrote some of the best stuff ever, but as far as I know, was only published in the now-defunct Harbin Quarterly (see archives for some of Neil’s musings). Writing requires a lot of sacrifice, especially if it’s not your job. The truth is, very few people are lucky enough to get paid for writing what they want to write.
I recently finished writing a novel, my only one, and it took me two and a half years. A conservative estimate is that I averaged five hours a day writing and reading, and spent several thousand on writers’ conferences, editors, and books for research. If my time is worth $10 an hour (the value of an Ithaca Hour), then for 350 days/year, I put in $87,500 in labor. If my time is worth double that, well – you do the math. So conservatively, I’ve got anywhere from $90,000 – $180,000 invested in this book, not to mention eye strain, weight gain, loss of social life, and a neglected homefront. I will have to invest even more if I self-publish, and would have to move a lot of units to cover that kind of scratch.
Two agents actually say they are reading my book – yea! But even if I were lucky enough to be published at someone else’s expense, the going advance for a new writer is $15,000, with low enough royalties to make it unlikely that any more money would be forthcoming. Unless you’re J. K. Rowling, you’re definitely not writing for the money, or even for being read.
Of course, if you’re like me, you write anyway. We’re not writers, but we write – only the Muse knows why.
Fortunately, there’s a group at Harbin for our kind of misfit. It’s called Elyseum, and it meets on Sundays at 6pm. As I mentioned in a previous blog, some of Elyseum’s writing is available to read in the Harbin Restaurant.
Harbin has groups for other kinds of misfits, too – lots of them: Acting, singing, drumming, art, howling at the moon. If there are things you feel compelled to do and not just for money, check us out.
Meanwhile, if you write but aren’t a writer, maybe I’ll see you on Sunday.
[Neil passed on May 28, 2013. Whether you knew him or not, you may enjoy some of his writings from the Harbin Quarterly. Ann]
THE BUCKET LIST
By Cornelius Murphy
We love making lists. We all do it. Writers make epic lists. There’s the dreaded “Honey, Do…” list. There are check lists for this or that exercise. The lists often begin: “Things to do…”; then we add: “before we leave for Bangladesh”; “before I graduate; …get married; …turn forty”. In the case of my latest list it’s “before I kick the bucket”. Nothing new; you’ve probably seen the movie.
As a youth I was a pretty fair athlete, playing baseball and football in the sandlot and later playing soccer in college. As an adult I have been an aficionado of sport in its myriad forms, and lately a fan of world football, or “footie” as the English call soccer.
There’s a saying in England: “Some people see Football as a matter of life and death. It’s much more important than that.” Watching the footie and the footie reportage on television, one gets a hint of what that’s about. It is obvious that there is a ritual dimension to European sport that is unknown in this country. American sportswriters are always struck and a bit bewildered by it. Before a game, the fans in their thousands all stand and sing the team anthem. Tears misting the eyes of burly longshoremen and truckers are not unusual. Imagine, grown human beings of every stripe and social stratum singing a sometimes very silly song for no reason that makes any sense, and getting misty-eyed in the bargain. I put it on the bucket list: Go to a game of footie and sing my lungs out.
As luck would have it, on a recent trip to Germany our nephew Mike got us tickets to a game at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin. Elke would have none of it. “No sir. Drunks and hooligans will be raising no end of hell and barfing all over the subway. I grew up in this town. Been there, done that, thank you very much.” I would have argued that this was an opportunity to see things in a new light, but I’m very tedious when I lecture; I bore even myself.
On the morning of the game, we rode to the stadium in a train packed with fans, every one of whom clutched a twenty ounce bottle of beer. Most were decked out in fan regalia: team flags as sarongs; team scarves draped fore and aft; team caps and toques. There was no rowdiness or hooliganism, there was merely a benign and good natured booziness. At the stadium, the beer kiosks outside did a brisk business as we leisurely found our way inside and to our seats.
It seemed like any other day at the ballpark until it happened, and I don’t know how it happened. One minute we were in our seats looking this way and that, waiting for the game to start, and in the next we were all on our feet, facing the playing field. No one fussed with their stuff or fussed over their kids; the beer and pretzel vendors suspended business and stood at attention. Fans of the visiting team stood as well, in respectful silence, like Protestant visitors at a Catholic High Mass. All seventy five thousand of us sang. We sang long and we sang loud. It was moving and a bit thrilling and it was a gas.
Now, I could have gone just as easily to the Kentucky Derby and sung “My Old Kentucky Home. I could have gone to Belmont Park for the Belmont Stakes and sung Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York”, something that will bring a tear to the eye of a New Yorker every time. No, it wasn’t tearful, boozeful song that lured me to Olympic Stadium, and it had little to do with the footie. It was the opportunity to go native: the bane of every colonial administration; the nightmare that haunts the parents of teenagers on European holiday; the siren song heard by sailors in ports like Pape’ete, Mombasa or Surabaya since men have gone to sea. Going native is what separates the traveler from the tourist.
It was not so long ago that to travel any significant distance was to go at a walking pace. The pioneers pretty much walked from St. Louis, Missouri to Sacramento or Santa Fe or wherever. Marco Polo walked to China and back. I’ll bet he came back speaking a passel of languages and having eaten stuff his mother warned him never to touch. Marco and the pioneers were travelers, writ large. They went native of necessity; they did as the locals did and ate as the locals ate as a means of survival. Lists they might have made could have begun with “Things to do to keep from getting dead”. Those would have been, in the end, a kind of bucket list.
Since I’m fast approaching my three score and ten, survival is hardly an issue. I’m also not one to live in, or give a second thought to, the worst-case-scenario. I prefer simply to be moved and thrilled these days, to do something to put a smile to my face and a lilt to my step: grab a bottle of beer, get on the train with the hooligans and be damned. That’s the kind of thing that belongs on the bucket list. As I write this, I have re-titled it. It now reads: “Things I Can Do to Remind Myself I’m Alive”.
STILL LIFE WITHOUT WOODPECKER
by Cornelius Murphy
An acorn fell at my feet the other day, and I was suddenly struck by how quiet it was. Sure, there was the whir and gurgle of the laundry, the hum of refrigerator compressors, a carpenter insistently driving a nail; but something was missing. I looked up into a walnut tree whose upper branches are all rotten, a tree where one usually finds acorn woodpeckers, and noticed they weren’t there. Ever since I’ve lived here, acorn woodpeckers have made that tree their playground and larder. In the autumn, they’d drill a hole in the rotten wood, fly off to an oak, harvest an acorn, fly back to the walnut and tap the acorn into the hole they’d made. Some, it seemed, would spend their time sorting the acorns, making sure they were in holes appropriate to their size. For the rest of the year they would eat, socialize, and raise families up there. All this industry, these comings and goings, were accompanied by a laugh-like call that sounded like a high pitched “kvetch-kvetch-kvetch”. That day there was silence.
Of course, they may come back when there are acorns to harvest, the one that fell at my feet being simply a leftover from last year. That they are not here now does not worry me so much as does the willingness to be afraid they won’t ever come back. I notice myself being altogether too ready to strike a pompous posture, point my finger, and hurl anathemas at ecological criminals who infest the woodwork. It’s an easy thing to do these days.
A more difficult thing is to imagine this world devoid of all life, although somewhere in the dim reaches of the past such a condition did indeed exist. A couple of billion or so years ago conditions on this planet simply would not support any kind of life. And then, one day, there it was. Around five hundred and fifty million years ago, during what the palaeontologists call the Cambrian explosion, the earth teemed with life in what would be to us unimaginable forms (they’re nearly unimaginable to the paleontologists who study them). In the intervening eons the history of life has been punctuated by mass extinctions that have, on more than one occasion, eliminated almost all forms of life on the planet. Life, obviously, has a habit of bouncing back.
The aforementioned extinctions, however, were probably occasioned by cosmic-scale catastrophes: collisions with comets or asteroids. These days we may be faced with the beginnings of a mass extinction occasioned by the actions of an individual animal and its domesticated beasts: Homo sapiens (a self-styled “intelligent species”); the small predators he keeps as pets; and the ruminants he collects in herds. Of course, there is some precedent for this kind of thing. When the land bridge connecting North and South America formed, placental mammals from North America migrated south, totally displacing and rendering extinct an entire fauna of marsupial animals. One survivor of that invasion, the opossum, cleared out, traveled north, and thrives even here.
There was no “intelligent species” among the South American marsupials to posture and protest. And while we have no shortage of posturers and protesters among Homo sapiens, the sad fact remains that the planet is losing a species every few minutes. The hardest thing to swallow is that there’s little difference between what Homo sapiens and company is doing to the planet today and what our less sophisticated placental cousins did in South America so long ago. The fact is that life is going about the business of life, red in tooth and claw, as it has always done.
Slashing and burning or posturing and protesting, Homo sapiens makes the same mistake: taking itself and its place in the history of life too seriously. Slashing and burning, it arrogantly views nature as an enemy to be conquered and tamed. Posturing and protesting, in love with its cleverness and resilience, convincing itself that it is “intelligent”, it arrogantly forgets that it is just another placental animal trying to make a living.
I’ve heard it said that life is a natural consequence of existence, that life is immanent in the universe and that it becomes manifest when conditions are ripe. A wondrous thing. For then there is no such thing as not-life. The heads-and-tails of it is not life/death or life/not-life. There is life-immanent and there is life-manifest; these are the two sides of the coin. Life and death, extinction and repopulation, are just two aspects of life-manifest, two marks on the same side of the coin. They are life itself; they’re the same thing.
I’ll try to keep these things in mind as I trudge up the hill toward the baths this evening, but I’ll worry a little anyway. I miss the “kvetch, kvetch” of the acorn woodpeckers.
The Harbin Quarterly Magazine ceased printing last December. After twenty-eight years, who missed it? Not many, it seems; perhaps as some implied, it was antiquated. It certainly used a lot of paper.
There is a place, however, where the Quarterly’s demise was noted and sincerely regretted – the Harbin Restaurant. Five bundles a week went out of there. People liked to sit on the deck or in the morning sunlight that streams through the East-facing windows, and read the Quarterly over their organic breakfasts. (One could perhaps go upstairs to the internet cafe that’s behind the coffee shop, and read The Harbin Post, but it’s not quite the same thing.)
Well, leave it to Harbin literary buffs to fill the void. This month sees the advent of the Cynefin (google it), available only in the Restaurant, stuffed with poetry and musings about Harbin and the inner truths of Harbin residents and guests.
So now there is new literary excellence to go with sunshine and coffee, delectable culinary masterpieces, and the always wonderful art show on the walls. What could be better? (Well, maybe a massage and a soak.)
There’s always a sense of expectation when Harbin’s founder, Ishvara, enters the room. He’ll be 80 this month; his limp is more pronounced, his posture less upright, his hand has a slight tremor and his voice rasps. His eyes, however, are as clear as ever, piercing blue, kindly and formidable at the same time. For those of us who have lived here awhile, the impact of Ishvara’s creation on our lives summons respect and reverence. For new residents, he and his creation are an enigma, and they wonder whether they should stay, whether Harbin will live up to their hopes and ideals. Especially the younger ones are full of questions about community and the 9,000 acres of land that Harbin caretakes. They look at Harbin’s perceived shortcomings and look to Ishvara for answers. Such a group of new residents was present in the Ministers Training class that met with Ishvara recently to discuss his book, Oneness in Living.
When I came to Harbin 26 years ago, I had the same trepidation that the newbies do now, so I recognized the veiled and careful form of the questions that were put to him. “How does Harbin live up to your original vision? Is there anything that disappoints you?” I surmised the questioners were really saying what they say more openly to each other: “Why isn’t Harbin solar? Why don’t we grow more of our own food?”
In the past, Ishvara would have understood the implied criticism. Depending on his mood, he might even have been defensive. But time has softened him, and the firebrand of old has become a mellow man. I knew this, but I was not prepared for his reply. His eyes filled with tears and his voice choked. “Harbin is so much better than I ever could have imagined,” he said. “Especially the people. I never imagined such good people would come here.”
With those few words, his audience suddenly saw through his eyes the magnificent and impossible changes that had gone before, the dilapidated resort around a sacred springs that Ishvara bought in 1972 and has become an unsurpassed place of spiritual healing.
Some of the young people in the Ministers Training that night will stay at Harbin and are destined to make more magnificent and impossible changes happen. It is their vision and ideals that will shape the future, inspired by and building on the accomplishments of the past.
Happy 80th year, Ishvara, and thank you so much for creating Harbin.
~Ann Prehn, Editor of the Harbin Post
In this connected world of social media, it’s easy to get addicted to seeing what others are doing, and wondering if we are “missing out.” Check out an alternative viewpoint in this blog posting, exploring the Joys Of Missing Out…
Have you ever had a moment during a busy day where your consciousness shifted, and you suddenly saw the visual world in a new way? A sunset or a dramatic vista or colorful urban festival might have caught your breath. Or maybe it was a simple leaf, floating on water. Or the rays of sunshine on your kitchen table. Or a child asleep.
Thanks to the work of professional and amateur photographers, National Geographic has been presenting us with stunning visual images from around the world for many years now. If you love photography, or seeing in a new way, check out their photography site, including the photo of the day feature. http://photography.nationalgeographic.com/photography
We often see Harbin guests looking a bit strained during their first hours of a retreat once they realize that they’ve entered a wifi-free world. Sure, they can use the cyber cafe by the library, but the payment system and fixed location are (purposely) inconvenient. So most decide to grin and “bare it” with a soak in the pools, or hike, or yoga class, or kirtan. And they begin to realize how many hours a day they now have for more interesting endeavors.
If you’d like to try bringing this “unplugged” experience back home with you after your visit to Harbin, check out Freedom, a simple computer application for Macs and PCs. http://macfreedom.com It’s just $10, and can be programmed to lock you away from the Internet for up to 8 hours at a time. We haven’t tried it, but they’ve collected some fairly impressive testimonials. Now you just need to find a hot spring in your backyard…
Most of us at Harbin understand the healing and restorative power of massage and other bodywork. So it’s good to see a scientific study reflect our experiences!
Check out this online article and audio coverage from NPR.
Many Harbin guests have attended the transformative events hosted by Essene High Priestess and performance artist Heather Salmon. Her appearances at our Sunday Sound Healing events, as well as full moon, new moon and other celebrations are not to be missed, so check out the Harbin monthly calendar for upcoming dates.
If you’d like to stay connected to Heather’s powerful energy and vision, tune into the Feminine Mystique Radio Show broadcast live every Monday at noon (PST) at www.TheFeminineMystique.com. Be sure to look for her upcoming events and gatherings, including a Spring Renewal Retreat at Harbin Hot Springs, April 8th-10th.